WINE

WINE: A mushroom bonanza with soccer-inspired wines

dsc_005.jpg A surprise delivery of these assorted Nouvelle mushrooms arrived late on a Friday, accompanied by a Creation Pinot Noir wine. Both grown and created in the lovely Hemel en Aarde Valley near Hermanus, fungus and grape are equally associated primarily with earthiness, softly decomposing vegetation, and single-minded clarity in terms of flavours.

My selection included fat shitake with its thick brown cap, and more delicately flavoured white and brown shimeji, sold as a mass attached by their narrow stems. What to cook alongside these delicious fungi? Plans were shuffled and wine-and-mushroom-loving friends hastily assembled for Sunday lunch.

The main ingredient for the menu was obvious, and with a FIFA World Cup final planned that evening it meant only one thing: a Germany versus Argentina theme for the additional wine and food elements. This was quality stuff; a tablecloth was in order.

I settled on:
MUSHROOM TARTS WITH GERMAN RIESLING

Cut 1 roll of butter puff pastry into rectangles, scoring a smaller rectangle near the edges to prevent the middle puffing up. On a baking sheet, bake at 200 degrees C for 15 to 20 minutes until golden.
Sauté 2 small, finely chopped onions in olive oil.
Add a sprinkling of brown sugar to caramelise the onions slightly.
Gently sauté about 500g of thickly sliced shitake mushrooms in enough salted butter to coat, plus chopped garlic, until golden and tender (I fancied the bigger, fatter mushrooms varieties for the tarts).
With the mushrooms removed and the pan juices remaining, add about 100ml cream, salt and black pepper, and a sprig of lemon thyme. Gently reduce that for about 8 minutes to thicken, then cool in the pan.
Assemble the mushroom tarts when everybody is ready to eat. Spread cooled chopped onion over the cooked pastry, then top with slices of buttery mushrooms.
Spoon over cooled, reduced cream, then pop into a hot oven for about three minutes at 220 degrees C.

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To drink? The wine of the day. Buttery pastry and rich cream sent me towards a wooded white, but woodsy mushrooms tend towards leaner Pinot Grigio or unwooded Chardonnay. So I thought I’d give a German Riesling a go. I had one stuck away just waiting for the perfect day … What joy that it lived up to the occasion. Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Kabinett 1999 from a tiny Kaseler Nies’Chen vineyard in the Mosel Saar Ruwer region, was off-dry but luscious, lemony and light in that ethereal way only German Riesling gets right. Only 8.5% alcohol. We all lapped it up. Perfectly pitched with the tart.

BRAAIED STEAK WITH SHIMEJI RISOTTO, TWO PINOT NOIRS AND AN ARGENTINEAN CAB FRANC

Cooking for Sunday lunch is chaotic in our house, thanks to a young son who easily gets into mischief and a husband whose job demands desk hours every Sunday morning. It’s also not smart timekeeping to start assembling a mushroom risotto only when a friend arrives with his homemade chicken stock, and simultaneously get the Weber coals just right for searing aged olive-oil-basted sirloin to medium-rare perfection. With a few sips of wine and some patience we managed.

Gently sauté 2 tubs of Shimeji mushrooms (1 white and 1 brown), ends of stems removed, in about 20g of salted butter for a few minutes until tender. Remove the mushrooms.
Melt about 80g of salted butter, covering the base of the pot.
Add 2 cups of arborio rice, stirring to coat them in butter with a wooden spoon for a few minutes, at low heat.
Return the shimeji mushrooms to the pot for a few minutes, and as soon as they’re warm, start ladling in about 6 cups of homemade chicken stock, letting each ladle be absorbed before adding more liquid. It takes about 40 minutes, and the rice will soften near the end of the cooking time.
Season with salt and black pepper.
Just before serving, add 1 cup of grated Parmesan.

dsc_0018.jpg To drink? Weingut Friedrich Becker Blauer Spätburgunder Tafelwein 1997 from Germany’s Rhein is Pinot Noir to you and me. Unfortunately I can’t find my notes about why I selected this wine on a trip years back exploring German Pinot potential. I found a reference online to a fantastic 2007 vintage of the same wine, so perhaps mine was a wetter vintage. With 13.5% alcohol and a dark colour, I found dusty wet tea leaf flavours and couldn’t appreciate much beyond a green character.

Creation Pinot Noir 2013 from the Upper Hemel en Aarde showed riper raspberry and cranberry fruit and delicate tannins, as you’d expect for a younger vintage. Pleasant enough at 14%, but missing a little complexity in the mid-palate.

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Last up, 2001 vintage of Finca La Celia Reserva Cabernet Franc from Mendoza. Argentineans love their beef and specialise in powerful Malbecs. They actually makes decent Bordeaux blends too, so I was tempted to see how Cab Franc fared as a single variety with steak. Not too well it appears, or perhaps this wine just didn’t have the legs to age so long. We all thought we tasted too much oak sweetness and found the wine lacking a geographical stamp of identity. Pity.

The outcome? At lunch the mushrooms reigned, as did the German Riesling. Argentina didn’t really feature in terms of wine. That wasn’t quite the case in the football game hours later where the teams were fairly evenly matched, but it ended similarly with Germany’s triumph over Argentina.

NOUVELLE EXOTIC MUSHROOMS are available from Woolworths, Spar and Fruit & Veg City outlets. Or see buying Nouvelle mushrooms

WINE: Bubbly Melissa and her Genevieve MCC fizz

dsc_0019.jpg I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day in a little Chardonnay vineyard pocket along the Van der Stel pass en route to Bot River early last week, drinking bubbles and eating delicious food with a friendly group. The experience still makes me smile.

Melissa Nelson seems to be one of those happy people who smiles a lot actually, and her cheerfully-make-a-plan attitude rubs off on those around her. Melissa was a pilot for a while before deciding she wanted to make Cap Classique, so she asked around until she found somebody willing to show her. Genevieve Blanc de Blancs MCC was the result.

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Only 5500 bottles were produced of the maiden Genevieve MCC 2008 vintage. You can’t buy that vintage any more, which is a pity. After The Saxon Five Hundred’s chef David Higgs’ delicious country-ish meal pairing Genevieve MCC 2008, 2009 and – current release 2010 – I’m convinced these Chardonnay-only wines are real crackers after at least a couple of years in the bottle. The 2010 is fresh, lean and elegant and full of green apple zing, but is like a teenager still trying to develop its personality. Sipping the 2009 (my favourite) and very smart 2008, it’s as though you’re tasting sun-kissed nectarines with yeasty croissants. Yum.

dsc_0015.jpg Genevieve is pitched at a fairly serious spender with its R165 price tag (for the 2010), yet meeting some of Melissa’s regular bubbly-loving fans over lunch (one a model-turned-mom who was one of Genevieve’s early twitter followers) I gathered there is a definite swing towards handbags and heels. Melissa has just launched a Genevieve perfume that was inspired by her gently elegant fizz, and plans to sell it at boutique wine stores.

If you’re wondering what we ate, David’s menu kicked off with oyster and potato crisps with a dusting of celery salt, alongside mushroom, leek and humus snacks. The starter was perkily fresh, combining unusual ingredients including slices of yellow beets with tarragon-pickled almonds and grilled lettuce, alongside goats cheese. Pork initially seemed a conservative choice for a main course – I think bubbly works best with a smoky savoury element – but to give credit the velvety confit pork with its clever pork skin ‘popcorn’ bits crisped just right gave new texture and twist to perfectly roasted meat with baby carrots. Halved honeyed sweet potatoes and ginger beer gel added sweet tang to the plate. I wasn’t bowled over by a macadamia and halva parfait with pear mousse and lemon verbena custard – a lot of ingredients you wouldn’t ordinarily put together formed a delicately flavoured frothy interpretation. But I couldn’t fault it for being unusual, and for letting that glass of Genevieve bubbles shine.

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GENEVIEVE Cap Classique See Genevieve

WINE: The Culinaria wine range. Made for food?

A lot has been said about creating dishes to pair with wines. But it’s not often that it works the other way round, and wines are made to suit food. The Culinaria range from Leopard’s Leap in Franschhoek was created to do exactly that. The six wines range from R65 for the Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc, to R95 for the non-vintage Culinaria Méthode Cap Classique, so they offer value in a medium price bracket. During four separate meals, I put a few of the wines to the test with Leopard Leap’s extensive food-matching suggestions. This is what I discovered:

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  1. The Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Shiraz Grenache 2010 (R89). Recommended foods for the Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Shiraz Grenache 2010 include spicier foods such as spiced Moroccan lamb, Indian shami kebab and Chinese Szechuan beef. However roast venison, beef and lamb served with a reduction sauce or with chocolate-chilli sauces are also on the list.
    Other foods: rich casseroles such as oxtail and beef bourguignonne, or dishes that incorporate beef, lamb, pork or duck, with various beans and lentils.
    Food no-no: most fish dishes, and overly ‘fiery hot’ dishes, the reasoning being that the perception of alcohol will increase and the wine will be stripped of its fruit.
    My dish: rustic spiced-tomato lamb shanks. I watched plump pieces of lamb shank being cut from a whole sheep and trimmed at a Beaufort West butchery on a recent overland trip. The low Karoo price per kilo made lamb shanks into an affordable splurge for this dish. Mine are slow-baked with cinnamon sticks, then tinned tomato, chilli and brown lentils are added near the end of cooking. Learn to make the Rustic spiced-tomato lamb shank recipe here The Plaisir de Merle Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 brought by a lunch guest possibly pipped the Shiraz Grenache with the lentil shank dish, showing this wine up as simpler and fruitier. But then the Plaisir de Merle is made in a more serious style, and costs double at around R160. Score for the Culinaria Shiraz Grenache 2010 with my rustic spiced-tomato lamb shank: 8 out of 10.

  2. On to the Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Grand Vin 2010 (R89). Leopard’s Leap recommends Chateaubriand or grilled, plain aged steak with this Bordeaux blend (it’s almost half Merlot, with fairly similar amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc, and a dash of Petit Verdot).
    Other foods: slow-cooked meats and stews, roast chicken, turkey, duck and quail, or liver in all its forms.
    Food no-no: venison, strongly-flavoured cheese such as a blue, or spicy-hot foods as these could ‘make the wine taste astringent and accentuate its alcohol and tannin’.
    My dish: Because they also recommend ‘herbal and earthy ingredients such as garlicky, herb-strewn meat roasts’ and ‘lamb with rosemary or thyme’ I mixed up some of those elements. This red blend showed nicely understated oak (new and second-fill barrels). And it worked very well with aged rib-eye, braaied simply in olive oil, studded with chopped garlic cloves and dusted in fresh rosemary.
    Score for the Grand Vin with my rosemary-and-garlic rib-eye: 8 out of 10.

  3. The next meal included Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Pinot Noir Chardonnay (R69). With a 60% Pinot Noir in this blend, the recommendation is for dishes with rich textures and flavours – butter, cream, melted cheeses – as well as ingredients such as white beans or polenta to add texture.
    Other foods: Smoked, grilled or lightly charred dishes. A variety of fish types, especially tuna and swordfish, or mild and sweet crayfish or prawns. Also given the thumbs up were white and brown mushrooms, especially if butter is used in the preparation. dsc_0006.jpg
    Food no-no: any sweet foods, or recipes that are too bold or showing extreme levels of spicy heat.
    My dish: I threw together a fishy pasta we often make for friends: leeks and mushrooms panfried in butter with a hint of dried red chilli, cooked down with a splash of Pinot-Chardonnay, and then finished with half a carton of cream. Towards the end we add bite-size pieces of lightly smoked Franschhoek trout and baby spinach, and mixed it through linguine. Score for the Pinot Chardonnay with the creamy trout linguine: 9 out of 10.

  4. The last wine was my favourite. Sipped alone, Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc 2012 (R65) has a lovely sensation of silky texture from the Grenache Blanc. With old vines originating in the Voor Perdeberg and older oak, it makes for a very appealing white blend. The Culinaria Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc is designed to partner cold shellfish, plain grilled white fish, and cold tomato-based salads.
    Other foods: white meats ‘with ample fresh herbs’ but excluding rosemary and thyme, dishes including citrus juice, dill and sour cream, or stuffed baby marrow and green beans. The ingredient list also includes stirfried calamari with lots of lemon, and seafood salads with freshly prepared mayonnaise.
    Food no-no: Savoury Chinese or Latin American dishes that tend to be sweet, or dishes based on caramelised onions, sweet butternut or root vegetables. Rich sauces might be overpowering here.
    My dish: I didn’t have any exotic ingredients lying around, so we baked readymade chicken schnitzels, squeezed over a lot of lemon, and jazzed it up with homemade mayonnaise freshened by chopped Italian parsley. On the side, thin oven-baked potato wedges and panfried onions, courgettes and baby spinach. Score for the wine: 10 out of 10. Score for the Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc with the chicken schnitzel, parsley mayo and greens: 9 out of 10.

In short the Culinaria wine range for food is a great idea. Most of us don’t want to think too hard about what to serve at each meal. This range makes food experimentation fun, and is fairly reasonably priced. It’s also rewarding trying to match complementary instead of clashing ingredients. Our toddler thinks the wooden wine box makes a nifty garage for his toy cars too.

LEOPARD’S LEAP WINERY, R45 Main Road, Franschhoek. Tel 921 876 8002. Contact Liné for wine info or food-pairing suggestions at 021 876 8843. All Culinaria wines are exclusively available from the estate (A Méthode Cap Classique and a Muscat de Frontignan 2013 dessert wine are also in the range).

WINE: Jordan’s Woolworths wines and George Jardine

dsc_0002.jpg I attend a lot of wine tastings where the interest lies in comparing different styles or varieties and the challenge to find wines that offer value. But time allowing, my preferred situation is when talented chefs are challenged to partner specific wines. Often these pairings are systematic and quite academic. Red wines need red meat, sort of thing. The ones that get it right usually combine an ingredient I wouldn’t have considered with a wine I would have.

Chef George Jardine did exactly that at Jordan restaurant this week, using Jordan’s wines made specially for Woolworths, with three courses cleverly combining winter and spring ingredients. And as is so often the case, the dishes completely changed perceptions of the wines served alongside. Solo, the Jordan Woolworths Lightly Wooded Chardonnay 2012 (current release) offered freshness with citrus zing at R109.99. Yet with food, its oakier predecessor, the 2004 Chardonnay vintage (hauled out of the cellar for interest) had no contenders. dsc_0003.jpg The incredible plate in question: heated buffalo mozzarella with burnt butter with the season’s pureed orange and curly-chewy grilled fennel, alongside joyous spring broad beans and wild edible flowers. The oak complemented these delicious salty-savoury-sour and citrus notes. Bowl-me-over stuff.

East coast hake was given red-meat treatment, creating a sensation of richness and smoky depth. Wrapped in pancetta, the braised fish partnered an intense, sauce heavy with wintry braised octopus and smoked marrow, on spinach. Tasted solo, the Jordan Woolworths Exclusive Selection Merlot 2010 (R99.99) was the standout wine with riper red-berry fruit. The Jordan Woolworths No-Added Sulphur Merlot 2012 (R59.99) was a less complex contender, with sharper edges. But then we sipped the sulphur-free Merlot with the pancetta-wrapped fish. Kapow. Instantly superior with the smokiness of the dish.

dsc_0006.jpg The confit duck leg with porcini, softly disintegrating potato, and poached turnip? I’d class this as comforting, classic winter food, not trailblazing. The dish formed a tasty background prop, showing off Jordan Cobblers Hill 2010 (their own label sold at Woolworths) with its clean, beautifully ripe cassis and dark chocolate elegance. Three Bordeaux varieties, planted in a two-hectare single vineyard. The 2004 Cobblers Hill should’ve been the better wine. It wasn’t.

Proving that the chef isn’t the only promising taste-shaper at Jordan in Stellenbosch. Cobblers Hill 2010 shows a winemaking shift in a very smart direction.

HOT TIP: George Jardine is consulting on a new restaurant concept at Newton Johnson Estate in Hermanus’s Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, from the beginning of October 2013. Chef Eric Bulpitt will be running the show (George mentored Eric at Jardine when the restaurant operated in Cape Town CBD). Sounds like a tasty duo.

At Jordan in Stellenbosch, the end of November 2013 will see the opening of a deli adjacent to the wine-tasting area. An on-site bakery, quality coffee and a ‘field to fork’ concept of simple daytime eating is planned. George Jardine will be a busy man during the next few months.

JORDAN WINERY & JORDAN RESTAURANT WITH GEORGE JARDINE, Jordan Winery, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 881 3612.

WINE: CHENIN SPARKLES IN CARNIVAL MOOD

dsc_0004.jpg Chenin Blanc is known as South Africa’s workhouse grape. In other words, we have a lot of it, so as a consequence it hasn’t been highly prized by farmers as a grape, or by consumers as a wine. Ken Forrester is a guy who’s dedicated much of his wine career to changing that perception and showing that Chenin Blanc wines can be both special and sought-after.

The Ken Forrester Vineyards Somerset West farm grows lovely old Chenin vines. The wine focus is fashioned around Chenin too, from an inexpensive off-dry commercial quaffer Petit Chenin (around R40) to elegant Old Vine Reserve Chenin with natural yeasts fermented predominantly in older barrels so it doesn’t kill the grape flavours with oak (the 2012 is R75). At the wine geek end of the spectrum, for those who practically want to dive into their glass, the full-blown, rich style called The FMC (the superb 2011 is R325) is the business. Ken Forrester also makes a Chenin dessert sticky Noble Late Harvest T (2010 is R220).

dsc_0007.jpg And now for something fun. With colourful stripes and patterns inspired by a carnival carousel, it’s a wine designed to be drunk and not to be too serious about. Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Chenin Blanc MCC just made its debut. It will always be a vintage wine, and the maiden 2011 costs R120. The catch is it’s available only from the tasting room. Good excuse for a road trip.

The old workhorse grape has been reworked in South Africa, so this is our sparklehorse,” says Forrester. Grapes from a 38-year-old Chenin vineyard block on the farm are picked early, spend 14 months on the lees, and produce only 12.5% alcohol in the bottle. It’s lovely and dry, with yellow Golden Delicious flavours and green Granny Smith apple crispness and acidity. It’s refreshing and I like it. What do you think?

WINE: SA producers feeling the pinch?

wine-bottle.jpg Sobering facts about South Africa’s wine situation at the recent VinPro conference:

South Africa’s domestic wine market is stagnant and wine producers’ profitability is the lowest in eight years. “Of a bottle of wine sold at R70 in a restaurant, the waiter receives a R7 tip, whereas the producer only receives R3. Producers’ income did not keep up with soaring production costs,” said Phillip Retief, head of Van Loveren Vineyards.

Apparently the new-generation wine drinker enjoys consumer-driven wine styles, Chenin Blanc, sweet reds and MCC and sparkling wines. Wine consumers also avidly seek wine information online.

The message? Drink more wine people. And spend a little more.

WINE: Michelin chef launches Invictus wine, no rugby ties

dsc_0005.jpg To diehard rugby fans, the movie Invictus did a disservice to South Africa’s rugby history. It also made light of the complex themes playing out in John Carlin’s excellent book Playing the Enemy. Invictus may have worked as a feelgood Madiba movie, but allowing Clint Eastwood to direct a storyline about a sport he didn’t understand was guaranteed to flop. Imagine if a South African director tackled a football movie?

The movie came to mind when I tasted one of two maiden flagship reds released at Druk my Niet’s winery launch today. Named Invictus, the 2009 Merlot-dominated blend includes 25% Cab Sauv and 23% Cab Franc. Winemaker Abraham de Klerk reckons he can be “arrogant enough” to push towards a Pomerol style with his Merlot-dominated blend, stating with a R180 price tag that Merlot can thrive in a hot Paarl climate.
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The name Invictus? The Latin reference to a “new and forthcoming” wine. Apparently the owners considered ‘impetus’ but realised it was a little close to ‘impotent’. Not a healthy association for a new cellar trying to establish a reputation. Invictus 2009 is an impressive wine with impressive fruit that should reward a couple of years ageing. It hit the spot with velvety braised angus beef shoulder partnering creamy celeriac puree and an Invictus wine jus, with sweet glazed baby onions. The chef behind this dish was no slouch. A friend of the German owners, Andreas Mayer flew out from Austria for the event. He has two Michelin stars at Mayer restaurant in Schloss Prilau, and an eccentric bent for custom-made red snakeskin shoes.

dsc_0008.jpg Druk My Niet also makes an unusual Tannat-based wine, which you don’t often find in SA. Chateau Montus in Madiran in Southern France is probably the best-known lable from this robust variety, and they recommend 10 years of bottle time to settle the grape’s harsh tannins. Druk My Niet won’t be able to wait that long, but the 2009 vintage of T3 (R280) looks promising, comprising equal quantities of Wellington Tannat fruit, plus the farm’s own Tempranillo and Tinta Amarella grapes. Partnering on the plate, Mayer’s European-styled grilled, skinless duck breast with pears and - as you’d expect from an Austrian - red cabbage and a lemony Topfen dumpling.

The winery name may be a mouthful, but watch these wines deliver mouth-pleasing results in vintages to come.

DRUK MY NIET, restored historic farm on lovely Du Toitskloof slopes, halfway between Paarl and Wellington. Tel 021 868 2393, DMN wines.

Aged Aussie Shiraz as Wallabies exit RWC

dsc_0002.jpg A breakfast gathering to watch the All Blacks smash the Wallabies during the Rugby World Cup semis turned into an impromptu weber braai in our courtyard. It’s one advantage of experiencing this tournament on an impractical timezone - you have the rest of Sunday to socialise, eat and relax once the sport is out of the way.

Wine mates were present so after we’d opened some uncomplicated South African whites, I dug into my collection for an Aussie wine to see out the losers. I wondered if there were any analogies between Aussie wines and the Wallabies’ usual style of play: world-class and a force to be reckoned with, yet almost passionless in their textbook execution of the moves most times.

The Wallabies took their game up a notch so that description didn’t apply this time. To my delight, the Australian wine didn’t disappoint either. Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 1996 was delicious and elegant, full of cedarwood and spice. I’ve stored the wine since I visited Adelaide in 1999. It’s from a great vintage and its juiciness and backbone sum up great Australian, Barossa Valley Shiraz. Worked with South African steak, lamb chops and boerwors too!

There was no doubting the rugby outcome but the wines had us divided - one friend raved about Eben Sadie’s Sequillo Cellars Red 2008, a worthy Swartland candidate, dominated by Shiraz, with a Mediterranean mix of varieties. It was a great wine, but in my view the Aussie wine shone.

Flipping through an old ‘James Halliday Wine Companion to Australia and New Zealand’ copy on my bookshelf, I found this Aussie wine writer’s description of Rockford as “some of the most individual, spectacularly flavoured wines made in the Barossa today, with an emphasis on old low-yielding dryland vineyards”. I think Eben Sadie would appreciate what they’re aiming for.

The All Blacks were immense, yet sadly I seem to have drunk all the fabulous New Zealand Pinot Noirs I thought I’d hung on to. Anyone have a good bottle lying around for next weekend’s final?

NOTE: For those who care about these things, I saw that Parker rated the wine 94 points and it’s selling for A$180…

WINE: Why would you drink unwooded Pinot?

Haute Cabrière launched an unwooded Pinot Noir 2011 yesterday, the affable father-and-son Van Arnim team claiming it is likely South Africa’s first unwooded Pinot Noir. I love drinking Pinot but most of the time its price tag puts the variety out of my reach.

The Haute Cabrière Unwooded Pinot Noir 2011 sells for R79, but if I’m honest I won’t be buying this one. This Franschhoek winery focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in their various excellent bubblies and still wines, so they are positioning this wine as their “further commitment” to Pinot Noir. Cellarmaster Takuan von Arnim said they wanted to showcase the grape’s natural red fruit flavours in an elegant yet vibrant style. Hence no malolatic fermentation or barrel maturation.

haute_cabrire_-_unwooded_pinot_noir_2011.jpg Unfortunately I believe Pinot needs a bit of a wood to enhance its silky tannins and coax out its gentleness. Drinking this wine solo and slightly chilled, I thought of candyfloss and cherries, but it lacked something on the mid palate. Wood! Admittedly it improved immensely when paired with creamy mushroom soup and other smart food, but then Pinot Noir generally partners a variety of smoked to braised to creamy dishes with ease. I couldn’t help thinking that a slightly chilled Rosé would do just as well – because it is also a lightweight red.

Last night I remembered another uncomplicated Pinot Noir I picked up at a supermarket. Two Oceans Pinot Noir 2010 retails for around R30. Sourced from youngish vines, the wine goes through malolactic fermentation in stainless steel and has a dash of oak chips. We drank it slightly chilled with an uncomplicated spaghetti topped with mushrooms, toasted cashews, pesto and Parmesan. It hit the spot, and offered everything you’d expect in a supper wine, without a hefty red wine weight. We’ll buy it again, not merely because of the price.

But what do I know? At the launch I sat next to the wine buyer for Ultra-Liquors, who assured me that Haute Cabrière Unwooded Pinot Noir will sell, because wine drinkers follow brands. And let’s not forget how entrenched the Haute Cabrière brand is, thanks mostly to the popularity of Haute Cabrière Chardonnay Pinot Noir. That pink-tinged, very pleasant white wine probably inspired women to start bookclubs, just to have an excuse to pour another glass.

FOODSTUFF: Wine rocks at The Test Kitchen

dsc_0009.jpg Inspired… but culinary stamina required. That was my impression after attending a brilliant eight-course lunch - plus extra dishes - at The Test Kitchen today, with Eben and Adi adding their bit. Paying diners are sampling their way through similar courses this evening.

June 15th marks the launch of six weeks of a Cape first ‘The Fantastic Eben, Adi and Luke show’ menu. The collective creative efforts of Swartland rock star winemakers Eben Sadie, Adi Badenhorst, and chef Luke Dale Roberts, this kicks off The Test Kitchen’s plan to showcase new menus alongside cutting edge wines and microbreweries. dsc_0005.jpg

Some standout matches I enjoyed:

Tomato and miso cream cheese mousse, which sounds simpler than the perfect red dehydrated and miniature Roma tomato combo with puff pastry shards and dots of aubergine mousse that we ate. It was all about harmony, sweet and acidity notes with the Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvedre blend of Sadie’s Sequillo Cellars Red. dsc_0009.jpg

Lovely Japanese-leaning complex combination of salty/sour/bitter flavours in yellowtail sashimi, soft yuzu dashi jelly, chickpeas, edemame, green tea and soy milk yuba. Sadie Family Palladius white 2008, a blend of numerous Swartland varieties taken from “the oldest vineyards I could find in the Swartland” according to Sadie. Neither wine nor dish overshadowed the other which is saying something. dsc_0013.jpg

The AA Badenhorst ‘Accepted white’ 2009, a blend of 10 different Paardeberg vineyards and 10 different varietals. From Luke: salmon tataki, halva, yuzu dressing, foie gras butter, Korean tartare. Simple salty and sweet elements bravely combined. As Adi summed it up best: “When you have food as complex as this, there are so many more meeting points.”

If these dishes entice, a menu of 11 to 13 courses including Eben and Adi’s wines (most pricy and some quite rare) costs R850 per person. Available for dinner only over the next six weeks.

THE TEST KITCHEN, Shop 104a, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock. Tel 021 447 2337, Test Kitchen Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sat.

WINE: summer picnic, Sauvignon and big screen

I recently researched romantic restaurants for WINE magazine’s Feb 2011 issue. A Q&A on the contributor’s page asked my thoughts on Valentine’s Day. My response: Not a biggie. I’d rather have a spontaneous experience any day of the year.

dsc_0003.jpg Out of the blue Overgaauw winery contacted me and asked if I’d like a “spontaneous Valentine’s Day experience”. Why not? So yesterday we trekked out to this small Stellenbosch Kloof farm with blankets and cushions and spent a delightful summer evening on the lawns and under trees dangling red paper hearts. It’s the third Valentine’s Day the Van Velden family has organised and it’s really popular, with February’s hot weather virtually guaranteeing a great evening under the stars. The deal was R250 for a picnic and a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

dsc_0009.jpg Supper goodie bags were provided by Food Fanatics, filled with tasty snacky stuff such as chicken liver pate and tapenade, chicken mayo baguette and delicious goats cheese and tomato tartlets. Overgaauw’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc made a delicious green fig and grassy wine partner.

Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline starred in French Kiss, the movie shown on two big screens in the farm’s spacious gardens. A mobile van sold hot popcorn and candyfloss and a shooting star even sneaked across the sky. I’m not a Hallmark romantic and I opt out of staged Valentine’s evenings in restaurants. But a spontaneous Stellenbosch evening in summer under shooting stars certainly gets my vote.

Overgaauw, Tel 021 881 3815,Overgaauw

WINE: Two clever winery food pairings

Are you bored of visiting a winery and having somebody take you through the range of wines while standing at the counter? I know I am. Sometimes I stop for a quick assessment of wine quality versus price, without the fanfare. But for people making a day of wine tasting, a few dry crackers and pre-packaged cheese surely doesn’t make for a memorable impression.A few wineries try to encourage lingering with cosy sitting areas and stay-a-while couches, but without something interesting to nibble, I have my doubts about how effectively it works.

Fortunately creative souls have listened at Neethlingshof and Solms-Delta respectively, and wine tasting has become a whole lot more interesting. Here are my recent impressions:

slow_wine_flash_food_4_hr.jpg At Neethlingshof Estate’s recently revamped tasting area, sign up in advance for a Slow Wine and Flash Food pairing designed by Lucille Jacobs of Neethlingshof. Clearly a good deal of thought went into the detailed discussions focusing on how wine weights balance the respective flavours and weights of the accompanying snacks. The food arrives in a take-away box – it’s ‘flash food’ - from Pink Salt Catering in Stellenbosch. Jacobs wasn’t available the day a friend and I booked an afternoon session, but her temporary replacement did a thorough job.

Six wines from the regular and reserve Neethlingshof ranges were paired with six flash food snacks. There was no contest with the Neethlingshof Gewürztraminer, where the spicy, dry lychee wine flavours picked up fresh ginger in the honey and ginger noodles. On the other hand, the Chardonnay partnered with chicken breast wrap seemed so straightforward it was dull. The surprises were a deliciously fruity Neethlingshof Malbec 2009 (I took home a bottle at R55) partnered with an Australian liquorice strip eaten with a duck and wild mushroom spring roll. An unusual, delightful way of emphasizing the plum, tarry characters in the wine. Equally inspiring was how apricot flavours in the Short Story Collection The Maria Noble Late Harvest were enhanced by the apricot preserve syrup drizzled over ice-cream on a mini waffle.

Neethlingshof Observations: The snacks match well but cannot compare to those made fresh in a restaurant kitchen. The reasoning behind the wine and food partnerships is interesting and thoroughly explained, yet there is room for debate if you find another wine fares better. Conducting the tasting in the brick vaulted private room might score points with a group, but we found it too dark and formal for two. The option of a table outdoors in good weather, or seats among the cheery beige and green tones of the contemporary tasting area, would make the experience more inviting.

R85pp, in the wine tasting centre throughout the year. Book 24 hours in advance for daily sessions after 12 midday. Tel 021 883 8988 or neethlingshof

I thoroughly enjoyed the Cape food and wine pairing offered at Solms-Delta winery near Franschhoek. And if the number of tourists milling around the winery, museum and restaurant on a weekday were any indication, others do too. Solms-Delta prides itself on empowering and employing locals from surrounding farms, and I’m not sure what their secret is, but as a visitor you can have an authentic South African experience here that doesn’t seem contrived.

Meals at Fyndraai restaurant explore the diverse culinary heritage of the Cape, which means a fusion of European, Asian and African flavours with a creative twist. On the menu there is mention of veldkos, Afrikaner boerekos elements, underpinned by Cape Malay slave influences blended with ingredients favoured by the Khoi nomads of the Franschhoek Valley. The Cape food and wine pairing follows a similar theme.
dsc_0017.jpg We were seated at restaurant tables under the trees where wine and heritage guide Tiaan Jacobs provided some background about the six wines we would taste. He’d worked in the vineyards and kitchen before joining the wine team, so we were in capable hands.

Chef Shaun Schoeman brought out an attractive wooden board of six dishes that were grouped alongside the wines. Explanations of food and wine matches weren’t very detailed, but we didn’t mind as the food did the talking. Each wine and food pairing was spot on and flavoursome too, from the creamy local smoked snoek and prawn sambals served under korrelkonfyt grape jam with the uncomplicated Chenin/Clairette Blanche/Semillon Solms-Astor Vastrap, to the inspired addition of cream to the venison shank ragout cooked with wild rosemary and bloublom sallie herbs, partnering Solms-Astor Langarm rustic red blend. When I commented later on the sweeter notes of the tomato bredie with spiced beef frikadelle (partnering a Mourvedre/Viognier/Grenache Noir Solms-Delta Lekkerwijn Rosé, Schoeman explained: “In the old slave curries they tended to sweeten things, so sweeter spices such as cinnamon and star anise are used here.” I ate every morsel of traditional boerber pudding, sweetened sago cooked in full-cream milk, with Schoeman remarking quaintly that they called it ‘padda oogies’ as children. dsc_0011.jpg

Solms-Delta Observations: Although billed as a food and wine pairing, the food is filling enough as a light meal. The pairings are clever and the food very tasty, the farm’s history, unusual wine names and varieties providing a talking point. Formal instruction by Schoeman and Jacobs was kept to a minimum as we sampled each pairing in sequence - unfortunately the wines were brought out so early they’d warmed up by the time we sampled the food. It was nice to be left to finish eating and sipping at our own pace or chat while admiring the scenery.

R85pp, book 48 hours in advance. Preferably six participants, or on request. Tel 021 874 3937, or book at food wine tour

WINE Constantia’s Sauvignon Blanc fest

I was remarking to a friend the other day that Cape Town hasn’t had its usual sweltering wind-free February weather. But after a few recent scorchers in the CBD had me clamouring for a fan on full blast, or heading for the nearest air-conditioned shopping centre, dsc_001.jpg I decided the weather was merely doing the Capetonian thing: arriving fashionably late.

The ‘Constantia Fresh’ Sauvignon Blanc Festival afternoon held on the lovely leafy Buitenverwachting lawns over the last weekend of February was one of those scorchers. Billed as a food and wine tasting, around 30 wine producers poured their current and older vintages of Sauvignon at tables dotted around. A few wines from France and New Zealand were added to the local line-up.

Six Cape fine dining restaurants were part of the line-up (unsurprisingly including four Constantia venues). The event had just the right numbers with people wandering from table to table at leisure, even if the food element was rather hit and miss. Buitenverwachting and Grande Roche chefs served snacks from wine tables, but tracking edibles from other restaurants depended on your skill at nabbing a passing waiter. Even with success, few waiters were able to identify the dish or the restaurant.

Nevertheless it was a lovely sociable afternoon that showed off Constantia’s natural scenery and some lovely wines too. While many people enjoyed line-ups of older vintages offered by some local wineries, I thought the newer Sauvignons were too smart to ignore.
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Wines that stood out:
Delaire 2009: Lovely Stellenbosch fruit shines brightly in an opulent style, exactly what I’m looking for in a chilled glass when I don’t want to think very hard. Yum yum.

Tokara Walker Bay 2008: very mineral and austere. It seems way too young to be taste-testing but there’s good stuff to come. I’d like to try it again in six months time.

Thelema Sutherland 2009: Gorgeously flinty mineral notes from their Elgin vineyards. It’s an earlier vintage than the Tokara sourced from a neighbouring wine area, yet the fruit is so much more expressive now.

Newton Johnson Resonance 2008: Their Sauvignon Blanc 2009 offers vibrant grapefruit freshness, but the Resonance 2008 will appeal to those who like a little more oomph in a glass. Fruit is sourced from one vineyard near the NJ Hemel-en-Aarde cellar, plus some Elgin grapes. Gordie Johnson added 20% of naturally-fermented Semillon to round it out. It’s a lovely drink, a combo of fresh mineral notes with oily complexity from the Semillon. dsc_005.jpg

Korus Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand 2007: Tasting four Kiwi Sauvignons on display, I was nearly bowled over by the sensation of gooseberries - way too much for comfort. The Korus showed gooseberry flavours too, but I enjoyed it because South African winemaker Jasper Raats’ winemaking also delivers depth and complexity in the glass. Good effort.

Oak Valley 2007 and 2009: This Elgin farm makes a stunning range of whites, and Sauvignon Blanc is no exception. Tasting an older 2007 vintage was a treat. This wine is lovely, showing a slightly tropical fruit intensity without a hint of bottle age. The 2009 is exactly what I want to be sipping now in Sauvignon: fresh chalky hints with crisp green apples. Delicious stuff.

Interesting that the wines I highlighted here are mostly from less traditional areas such as Elgin and Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. There are plenty of good wines from Constantia, Durbanville, Stellenbosch and Darling too, each offering diversity and specific regional profiles. The thought I took away was how good our South African Sauvignon Blancs are. We used to lag behind New Zealand. No more.

WINE delicious wines at Franschhoek Uncorked

I popped into a few wine farms today during Franschhoek Uncorked today. It’s a festival where wineries offer music, food and leisure activities on their farms in the hope of attracting carloads of Capetonians. And hopefully sell a lot of wine…

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Môreson wines were in good company on Happy Valley Road with Bread & Wine Vineyard Restaurant converting into “market stalls” selling fresh produce, buffalo mozzarella, homemade boerewors rolls and my favourite - Neil Jewell’s delicious softly poached Scotch eggs (coated in pork, sage and onion sausagemeat and a strip of homemade bacon). We stocked up on extra Scotch eggs (R15 each) and saucisson Sec to eat at home.

My visit to Lynx Wines was a first. It won’t be the last. I’ve heard wonderful stories about the personal wine experience people receive when they arrive at Dieter Sellmeyer’s small tasting room opposite his vineyards. Peeping into the cellar I’m not sure if it qualifies as a micro-winery, but with red wines punched down in cement tanks and a few wines vinified in a couple of tiny stainless steel tanks, it should be!

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German-born engineer-turned winemaker Sellmeyer was raised in Spain, studied in the UK and has worked in a few countries around the world before deciding to put down roots – literally – in Franschhoek soils. Three attractive daughters and a few friends were roped in to dispense tapas to the crowds today.

Spanish-style calamari strips in chilli, and skewered prawns with lime were both delicious with the Lynx Viognier 2009 (R90). Confession: I don’t enjoy most Viogniers as the variety’s stone fruit overtones are often drowned in new oak, reminding me of a reduction of apricot Liqui Fruit instead of white wine. Even if a winemaker incorporates two or three percent of Viognier in a wine I often sniff it out. The Lynx Viognier was such a refreshing change and I happily drank more than a glass. The Lynx secret to refreshing Viognier is sandy soils, and only fermenting and maturing 50 percent of the grapes in barrel; the rest from the tank. Delicious stuff.

I can recommend the Lynx Shiraz 2007 too. Again planted in those sandy soils, acting as a natural vigour control to keep yields low, this vintage made it into WINE magazine’s 2009 Shiraz Challenge top five. Expect a lovely savoury quality, perhaps biltong with coriander seeds. It’s as elegant as its Viognier counterpart, thanks to the use of second and third-fill barrels. Nice price too for a red at R90 per bottle.

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BREAD & WINE VINEYARD RESTAURANT, Happy Valley Road, Franschhoek. Tel 021 876 3692, http://www.moreson.co.za/
LYNX WINES, Wemmershoek R301 Road, Franschhoek. Tel 021 867 0406, http://www.lynxwines.co.za/

WINE Unexpected five-star supper

Spending two days visiting producers in the Hemel-en-Aarde wine valley near Hermanus researching a magazine feature has its up side. My mud-splattered car and plenty of notebook scribbles are evidence of tasting plenty of good wines, including some zippy, flavour-packed just-released 2009 Sauvignon Blancs.

Arriving home in Cape Town to a stewed chicken-in-a-pot dinner cooked by my husband was a treat. His eyes lit up when I uncorked two part-bottles to drink alongside the meal, given to me by their winemakers to finish off. Although I didn’t say anything until after said husband had given an opinion on the wines, they were two Platter’s South African Wines 2010 five-star rankers.

I generally use Platter or other awards only as a quality indication, but I wholeheartedly agree with the panel about these two wines. Kevin Grant’s Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008 is sourced from two vineyards in Hemel-en-Aarde and one in Elgin. Grant’s own Chardonnay vineyards in the newly named Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge part of the valley weren’t old enough to go into this wine, but if vines are positively affected by good scenic views these chaps will definitely perform!

At R175 per bottle the Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008 is too rich for my tastes, but it was a treat to savour a barrel-fermented glass with nuttiness, creamy marzipan and mineral notes. It’s rare that we both enjoy a Chardonnay enough to refill the glass.
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The second five-star wine was Newton Johnson Domaine Pinot Noir 2008. R188 at cellar door from the winery’s new flagship range and sourced from the NJ “domaine” vineyards in Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, it’s different to their regular Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2007 (R162) from Elgin fruit. It takes a while to warm up in the glass but like its humble winemaker Gordon Johnson, the Domaine Pinot 08 eases into the role with quiet confidence. This delicious SA Pinot doesn’t put a foot out of place. A pitter-patter of tannins, delicate length and sweet, squishy cherry fruit. Yum.

WINE Spring day grazing at Villiera

Our conversation in the car on the first day of spring focused on eating habits and small versus large appetites, bringing to mind a colleague’s recent trip through the Kruger Park with inlaws. It’s that tricky situation we’ve all experienced when travelling with people we’re too polite to be forceful with about the catering arrangements, wondering whether their idea of a good meal is a slug of coffee or a full cook up.

Waking at the crack of dawn to witness animals in the wild at their best is only pleasant if you know you can expect breakfast or at least lunch after five hours. If not, there is little to focus your mind away from a rumbling stomach. My colleague and I are definitely of the hearty chomping variety, not grazers satisfied with ad hoc snacks.

Imagine our disappointment then after a 1pm start time to taste the new wine vintages at Villiera (website http://www.villiera.co.za/) and the lure of a big-name chef, to discover that lunch was grazing-style and on the run. One clever touch was a Caesar salad served in sabraged bubbly bottle tops, upturned and stacked in the traditional wooden bubbly riddling racks. But that’s all I sampled, so we wouldn’t miss the first safari drive to view game in a section of Villiera’s new Stellenbosch conservancy.

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Villiera will be opening the conservancy and wine safari drives to the public on appointment during the summer season and they seem like a lot of fun. Together with a neighbour’s collaboration, a 175ha property is being developed as a wildlife sanctuary. The area is stocked with game and includes 10 dams and marshy areas that attract birdlife.

Villiera’s Brut Natural 2007 was launched too. It’s bone dry at 2.14g per litre residual sugar but elegant nevertheless. I found it lovely and fresh. Cellarmaster Jeff Grier says the Brut Natural is a hit with health-orientated customers who believe they are allergic to sulphur in wine. In this wine’s favour: incredibly low levels of sulphur, low alcohol at 12 percent, and no additives. Villiera’s first vintage of Brut Natural was released in 1998, and it’s become such a popular drink that volumes routinely sell out. Grier would love to make still wines with low sulphur but it’s too risky. Bubbly it will be then.